Is Rubbing Alcohol Good for Acne?

A staple in many medicine cabinets, rubbing alcohol is the most effective disinfectant you can think of.

But what does this cleaning solution have to do with acne? As it turns out, rubbing alcohol may help reduce the overgrowth of acne-causing bacteria and even help improve the efficacy of other skincare ingredients.

However, its potential benefits may be outweighed by a few drawbacks. So, is rubbing alcohol actually good for acne? Or can using it on already inflamed skin worsen the situation? Read on to find out!

What is Rubbing Alcohol & What Are Its Uses?

Rubbing alcohol is a standard household product with a variety of uses. It consists of a 70-95% concentration of either ethyl alcohol or isopropyl alcohol in water and is used for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.

Due to its potency and chemical composition, rubbing alcohol effectively destroys bacteria, fungi, and many viruses. It does this by denaturing their proteins and dissolving their lipids, which makes them unable to function and survive.

Additionally, rubbing alcohol evaporates almost immediately, which helps it disinfect any surface quickly without leaving residue behind.

But besides being a super-efficient antimicrobial solution, some variations of rubbing alcohol also have a variety of other uses, such as being added to cosmetic products.

Isopropyl alcohol, to be specific, is the most common form of rubbing alcohol that can be found in anything from cleansers, serums, moisturizers, and sunscreens due to its efficacy as a penetration enhancer, stabilizer, pH balancer, and preservative.

How Does Rubbing Alcohol Work to Treat Acne?

Particularly popular in astringents, which are toners used to reduce pimples, minimize enlarged pores, and soothe redness, isopropyl alcohol is often hailed as an efficient solution for acne.

Rubbing alcohol can effectively dry out excess sebum, which is one of the main causes of acne. Sebum is an oily residue secreted by our sebaceous glands, and although beneficial for our skin’s health, it can become a problem when too much of it is being secreted too quickly. Excess sebum can get stuck inside the pores, where it mixes with cellular debris like dead skin cells and white blood cells and forms a plug that serves as food for the acne-causing bacteria.

Therefore, drying out sebum can make the skin less prone to breakouts, and any existing pimples can heal faster.

Rubbing alcohol also disinfects the skin, so applying it to a pimple that has ruptured and is bleeding may help prevent secondary infections due to bacteria entering through the cracks of broken skin, as well as stop the bleeding and lower inflammation.

Risks of Using Rubbing Alcohol on Acne

While rubbing alcohol can effectively minimize the severity of a pimple, using it on inflamed skin comes with a few risks.

The most common side effect of using rubbing alcohol on acne is the potential for skin dryness.

Now, less sebum production can reduce acne; however, let’s not forget that this component is essential for the skin because it keeps it lubricated and protected from external pathogens.

Therefore, drying it out completely isn’t the best idea, as this can cause the skin to become irritated and produce even more sebum to compensate for the dryness. More sebum equals more breakouts, making this a vicious cycle that can be difficult to stop.

Additionally, rubbing alcohol can be rather aggressive on the skin, and frequent use may result in worsening inflammation and acne, as well as peeling, flaking, and tightness.

Finally, applying rubbing alcohol on open wounds or broken skin can be painful and can cause physical discomforts like stinging and burning.

So, while rubbing alcohol can be effective as a quick solution to a rogue pimple, using it on skin dealing with severe acne can lead to more harm than good and should be avoided.

How to Get Rid of Acne Fast?

Here’s how to soothe redness, reduce inflammation, and get rid of pimples fast:

Benzoyl Peroxide

A powerful antibacterial agent, benzoyl peroxide is a component that works by infusing the pores with oxygen and destroying the airless environment bacteria need to thrive.

Fast-acting and effective, benzoyl peroxide can minimize the severity of a pimple after as little as a few hours of applying it over the area of inflammation.

Whether you use it as a spot treatment or a regular part of your skincare routine, benzoyl peroxide is one of the most effective anti-acne agents on the market.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is an exfoliating acid that dissolves the gunk accumulated inside the pores and encourages cellular turnover, which is essential for anyone dealing with acne, as faster turnover means cells won’t remain stuck inside the pores where they can form plugs and become food for hostile bacteria.

Salicylic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties, so applying it over a pimple will help reduce its size and severity quickly.


Sulfur is an antibacterial and antifungal agent that helps balance out oil production and aids in dissolving skin cells stuck inside the pores.

Additionally, its anti-inflammatory action help reduces redness and the size of the pimple, making it an excellent spot treatment for fast results.


One of the most efficient ways to keep unwanted pimples at bay when you don’t have products like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and sulfur at hand is to rub an ice cube over the area of inflammation.

Ice helps reduce swelling and redness quickly, and while it may not get rid of acne, it can help minimize the severity of a pimple in no time.

Tea-Tree Oil

Tea-tree oil is a natural antibacterial agent that works to minimize redness and relieve inflammation on the skin.

Effective against bug bites, rashes, and skin irritations, tea-tree oil can also be applied to a pimple to reduce its size and severity.

To quickly zap a rogue pimple, mix a drop of tea-tree oil in a pea-sized amount of your favorite moisturizer and apply the mixture directly on the spot overnight.


Does Rubbing Alcohol Help Hormonal Acne?

Rubbing alcohol can, in some cases, calm hormonal acne; however, the issue is likely to keep coming back until you address internal imbalances by changing your diet, reducing stress, and supplementing with vitamins like zinc, B-complexes, and omega-3 fatty acids that will help optimize the hormone balance in your body.

Does Rubbing Alcohol Help Cystic Acne?

Rubbing alcohol can minimize the appearance of cystic acne; however, if the issue is severe and spreads across larger areas of the body, this is usually a sign of an internal imbalance that should be addressed with dietary and lifestyle changes.

Does Rubbing Alcohol Help Fungal Acne?

Rubbing alcohol can help fungal acne by drying out the skin and reducing skin oil, which is one of the primary substances the yeast Malassezia, which is responsible for fungal acne, feeds on.
However, if the issue persists, topical antifungals and medications that address the root cause of the infection should be applied.

Does Rubbing Alcohol Help Acne Scars Disappear Faster?

Rubbing alcohol is frequently found in toners containing exfoliating acids and professional chemical peels that help address certain types of scarring; however, it is unlikely to help acne scars disappear faster on their own.
Rubbing alcohol doesn’t have melanin-inhibiting properties that would halt the overproduction of the brown pigment responsible for skin discoloration; therefore, using it for any type of acne scarring like hyperpigmentation or post-inflammatory redness is pretty much useless.

Originally Published: January 23, 2023

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sam wood is GoodGlow's Chief Editor
Analyzed by Sam Wood

Hi, I’m Sam Wood, the chief editor, lead acne expert, and health coach at GoodGlow, as well as a best-selling author for one of the top acne books on Amazon. I struggled with acne for over 10 years, and began studying the effects of diet on skin quality while pursuing a degree in Nutrition Sciences at the University of Missouri. After shifting from mainstream skincare trends to in-depth research in medical journals, I experienced significant personal success in managing my acne. This inspired me to start GoodGlow, where I simplify complex scientific findings into easy-to-understand advice. With over 10 years in the field, I’ve helped more than 2,500 people achieve clearer skin through natural, holistic methods, and I’m dedicated to personally assisting those seeking guidance on their acne journey.

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